International Women’s Day recognizes the achievements by women and the challenges that they still face. Celebrated every year on March 8, individuals and institutions have taken the initiative to make the day a memorable affair. Chair of the Romance Languages and Cultures department, Professor Nieves Romero-Diaz, embraces and integrates the holiday into her coursework. Following the holiday, students in her Gendered Violence in Spain class had to create a poster or commercial that could serve as a campaign against violence towards women. Studying media, politics and literature, students demonstrated how diction and communication are crucial tactics to fighting against physical, verbal and hierarchal issues.
Sexist representation of women across various fields, mainly in media, share commonalities. Romero-Díaz taught her class the basic techniques that can result in misrepresentation. The “use of words, use of rhetoric to talk about violence” can influence how a viewer thinks, claims Romero-Díaz. Focusing on campaigns from 1999 to 2013, students learned how the Spanish government consistently discusses violent acts against women. As opposed to the United States, which rarely mentions the matter, the Spanish audience is so accustomed to hearing about the issue that discussing violence and gender discrimination has become part of the norm. Romero-Díaz insists that there are problems in both countries. The way in which the United States focuses on grand-scale problems, such as terrorism, as opposed to the more every-day existence of gender inequalities and discrimination, creates an ignorant ideal that these problems rarely occur. In Spain, however, the presentation of these matters –while more frequent than in the United States – often handles these issues with a mundane tone.
As students approached their group projects, they realized that rhetoric found in Spanish news reports, are the key towards molding perspectives. On creating a group video campaign for unanimous support for women’s equality, Jill McLeavy ’17 reflects, “We had to identify any and all sexist nuances in our own work. Creating our campaigns turned out to be very complicated.” Students also incorporated outside class experience. A Pronounced theater-fanatic, Emily Myers ’16 incorporated her performance and gender interests into her group poster.
As for the perfect target audience? The class agreed that brutality against women is not only a one gender-sided discourse, and neither is it a matter pertaining just to a certain age group. Alexandra Ackert-Smith ’16 notes, “Women’s issues and equality pertain to all human beings, not just those who identify as women.”
Mount Holyoke College, among the other Seven Sisters, has made awareness a pertinent matter. Romero-Díaz insists that discussion is especially important at a women’s college because, “gender violence has increased among young women, especially in the last 10 years.” From the second annual Celebration of Speech at Mount Holyoke College to the Global Symposium led by Barnard College, remembering the past and current problems are reoccuring themes. From the United Arab Emirates to South Africa, Barnard College has exemplified that women’s equality is a global concern. As Mamphela Ramphele, a South African politician, discussed, “We have girls being raped in schools and not a single women’s organization talks about it.” Beyond realizing that there should exist a universal awareness, Ramphele’s comment implies that there needs to be sources, whether non-profit organizations or media, that address these matters.
The first step might be reflection. As Michelle Bernardino ’15 points out, “We need to break away from the mindset that the United States is the most progressive [country], especially because it makes claims that it is a ‘developed’ country, and that development is very exclusive.” In reference to the common assumption that Central and South American countries are ‘underdeveloped,’ Bernardino adds, “they have had a total of seven women presidents, while here in the United States we are still asking the question if whether we are ready for a female president.” Gill Marcus, the first Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, stated at Barnard’s 2011 Global Symposium in South Africa, “In that leadership and what we stand for should be what we stand for in our own integrity but also what we stand for in our own society. What society are we building for?”
While developing tactics to better inform society on violence against women and their inequality in society, taking the time to celebrate and acknowledge progress is also important. As Romero-Díaz said, “Women are not the only ones who should be making change.”
Equality for women will further societies. As the United Nations pronounced for this year’s International Women’s Day, “Equality for women is progress for all.”